An Australian Change Of Heart Must Come From The Syrian Crisis


During Monday night’s candlelight vigil in Sydney, human rights campaigner Sara Saleh argued that Australia is defined by its response to the Syrian crisis matters.

Nothing I say today could do this loss justice. Nothing will bring back little Aylan Kurdi, and nameless thousands of others like him. Facts, statistics, policies: Nothing I offer you don’t already know. But what I do know is I’ll never forget the very second I saw the image of Aylan, lying face down in the sands of Turkey, his back to the world.

He was on his way to life, and we lost him somewhere between turn back the boats and apathy, somewhere between ignorant racism and momentarily, maybe conveniently forgetting our humanity.

What I did come here today to say is: enough skirting around the issue.

Whether you think it was right to share the image or not, the real problem is if we can only feign anger at the sight of this, and then have that anger last about as long as a Facebook post, then do nothing…. hashtag hypocrisy at its finest.

It doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t stop tonight. And it certainly doesn’t stop with you and I.

Lawyer Lydia Shelly’s piece in New Matilda a few days ago struck a chord.

“If Aylan Kurdi had made it to Australia and was being sexually abused in Nauru, or deliberately placing plastic bags over his head and self harming, chances are we wouldn’t know his name.”

What’s more harrowing than us not taking enough refugees after we’ve instigated wars that caused them to flee in the first place, is the fact that the ones who made it here remain nameless and faceless. We know nothing of them because they’re locked up indefinitely on Manus or Nauru.

For three-year-old Aylan and his family, who only knew a life of running, to the three and four and five-year-olds born in detention in our own backyard who know only a life behind barbed fences, one tiny boat and an impenetrable ocean is safer to swallow than staying.

It’s not about would you put your kids on a boat? It is NOT about us, but rather “why did these people put their kids on a boat?”

Long before Aylan, we knew why; the bloodshed and horror is there on a daily basis for us to see. We just chose to turn a blind eye when we could have helped prevent it.

We can’t praise the virtues of human rights, lecture others about it and be resistant ourselves to what is legally and morally right.

We MUST call on the Australian Government to take a more principled, humane approach. We MUST increase our paltry intake to one more that is more meaningful, fit for a bountiful land like ours.

The conversation can’t just be about “how can we resettle refugees?”, but “how can we stop the global refugee crisis, from further worsening?”

We must call on the government to look at proper, genuine solutions in Syria and beyond – solutions that put human life before politics and before profit.

Governments of the past that have benefited from colonialism and war mongering, that took land and resources and displaced millions, and developed it off their backs… their reckoning has come. Reparation time has come.

Inaction is complicity.

The refugees we created, we must let in.

Offshore detention camps must be shut down.

We must open up in welcome, not wires.

Whether this image of Aylan will be a defining moment for Australian cruelty, or humanity, that’s up to us.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.